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How to avoid the next viral marketing campaign

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In the wake of an ad campaign targeting a group of Chinese students that was widely condemned as a form of ethnic cleansing, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is taking a fresh look at the issue.

“While we have always opposed discriminatory use of government funding to promote or defend one group or another, we recognize the need to make clear to recipients that these programs are not intended to discriminate,” the office said in a statement Friday.

“We also believe that it is important that we have the ability to challenge the content of such advertisements without fear of retribution.”

The Department of Justice launched an investigation of the campaign after students in Shanghai and elsewhere in China expressed outrage at the ads, calling them a form that violated Chinese human rights laws.

In the days after the campaign was launched, the Chinese government said it would immediately investigate and block any advertising that glorified ethnic cleansing and ethnic violence.

The school district in Shanghai that hosted the campaign, Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, is also the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.

It was not immediately clear how the agency was able to find out about the campaign without contacting Beijing Academy.

A federal judge in Boston, however, is set to hear arguments on the matter next week. 

The U.S. Department of Labor has also launched an inquiry into the Chinese program, which has not been approved by the agency and is still being considered by regulators.

The Labor Department said in an email Friday that it was looking into the matter “because it may be relevant to federal law enforcement authorities in the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.”

The Labor Office said it “has not determined whether the ad campaign violates any laws” but would “monitor it closely to ensure that we are fully informed of the program’s activities.”

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